Originally Published at www.reachutmost.com

“Oh, I’m really not so sure about that,” she said. ‘She’ is my eighty-four-year-old client and that’s what she said to me in our first session together. We had just finished a set of deadlifts at twenty-five pounds, which felt like a lot to her, and I had announced that we would now be moving up to thirty-five.

To my client thirty-five pounds sounded like a lot of weight, as it does to many seniors, especially the female ones. That’s understandable given that most of the things we handle on a daily basis like our clothes and shoes, briefcases and handbags, books and newspapers, overflowing grocery bags, and the like weigh only a few pounds. In these situations ten pounds is already relatively heavy. Over ten gets our attention. Thirty-five? That’s eyebrow-raising.

So there we were, in my client’s basement gym, looking at the thirty-five pound dumbbell. At first her objection was pretty straightforward. “That’s a lot of weight,” she said, looking at me with a face suggesting that this statement alone should be enough to end the conversation and make the dumbbell disappear. A lot of weight—check and mate. When I didn’t budge, the tactic shifted. “Well, it seems to me that there must be an upper limit to how much I should lift, shouldn’t there?” she asked. “There must be an amount that will hurt me and that there’s no benefit to trying?”

That’s not a bad question. The truth, though, is that thinking about an ‘end weight’ is the wrong way to go about it. It’s not the weight that matters, it’s how you get yourself there. I knew in the moment we were having this conversation that she would one day lift eighty-five pounds. I also knew that between now and then were a lot of repetitions. It would take months, even years (she’s not a spring chicken after all), to get there. That’s how the body works. It adapts over time. All you need to know is where to start and, more importantly, how to pace yourself. If you can do that, your body can make the journey.

The problem is the majority of people aren’t familiar with the concept of this journey, nor the kind of time frames we’re talking about. That’s just because it’s never really presented to us. Most of the time, we all are either hearing that we can make a fitness transformation fast—six weeks to flat abs!—or reading about the workout routine of one of our favorite stars, and it is usually only a single week of their regimen. It’s all framed in hours and days while in the real world, transformation is measured in months and years.

Back in the gym with my client, six years after that first conversation, I watched as she deadlifted fifty pounds. She was coming off a two-week hiatus so I didn’t want to push it too hard. “That was ok,” she said. “What was that, twenty-five?” AH-HAAAAAAAA!! was my response—in my head, of course. Out loud I simply told her it was fifty, which she found totally surprising. These are the moments I live for as a trainer. I reminded her of the days when she thought thirty-five pounds was crazy. I told her that since we had slowly but surely worked her up to deadlifting seventy-five pounds, her whole frame of reference was now shifted. By sticking to the program over time, her body had made the journey and now weights that once seemed impossible were routine. These are the adaptations that the body can make if you simply know how to pace yourself. It’s not necessarily quick, but given the right process, it can happen at virtually any age.

Filled with pride, I told her that my current goal for her was actually to get to at least eighty-five pounds. She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I’m really not so sure about that,” she said.